The Fruit of Distrust

We live in a time of turmoil, violence, and mayhem. Like other such times in the history of the world, there is one central truth that dictates the increase in chaos.

We see it everywhere. Suspicion of “the other”. A pervasive pessimism that colors every thought and prevents even the possibility of building understanding. It is like a fever that has swept this world and is carrying everyone inexorably toward a cataclysmic, chaotic shattering of all that is good or wise or beautiful about this world. This fever is driving us all apart and locking peoples into paths of confrontation without opportunity for even hoping for common ground. This fever urges us to destroy “the other” like a spiritual version of rabies.

This fever has a name: distrust.

It is the natural born child of fear, that all destroying emotion second only to love in power. But even though love is stronger than fear, that does not mean that fear is powerless to quench love for a season, employing distrust to turn loving hearts into furnaces of hate.

But this is not a new story. It has been around since time began. In the words of the Teacher, son of David: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to love and a time to hate.”

No, this is not new. Nothing under the Sun is new.

But, it is sad. This fever called distrust is always a sad fever, burning up the hearts and minds of everyone afflicted. But how do I know this fever’s name? How do I pronounce my diagnosis with such certainty?

Like any disease, this particular fever manifests one very distinctive symptom that is a certain tell. The distrust fever may start subtly, with people agreeing to disagree over matters of opinion, but over time, the sure fire symptom is that civility grows in shorter and shorter supply while the rhetoric grows increasingly hostile and personal. Finally, it reaches an unmistakable crescendo when facts themselves can no longer be agreed upon.

Welcome to full on, no holds barred, Annie grab your gun, chip on the shoulder, smash mouth hostility. This is distrust fever in full force. I’m talking 106 degree Fahrenheit, break the thermometer, brow scorching, brain frying FEVER.

And it does indeed make me sad. So many casualties. So little love.So little TRUST.

As I look at this sad world, caught up in this fever, one of the saddest symptoms I see in my own nation is the use of a phrase I keep seeing repeated over and over: “liberal mainstream media”. The very fact that the phrase is a literal oxymoron never even seems to occur to those uttering it. This is a fiction that has been put forth by those with a vested interest in sowing doubt and division in our society.

I can say this with absolutely no sense of superiority or condescension since for quite a while, I was one of the people repeating this phrase. And it wasn’t my own vastly superior intellect that rescued me from the clutches of the fever either. It was the very humbling experience of coming face to face with consequences wrought when good people, people I came to love, suffered because enough other good people chose to believe this phrase and, in doing so, abandoned balance, replete with all its messiness and occasional uncertainty, in favor of the friendly reassurance of rightness offered up like a big friendly hug out on the fringes of the wild frontiers of “news”.

These “guardians of the conservative truth” (yes, I know there are liberal sites also but they aren’t mainstream either) – where everyone marches to the same music and knows the secret handshake of the truly informed – make no bones about their agenda. Isn’t that refreshing. And by telling you that, they can then turn right around and tell you with a knowing wink, that ALL news organizations really have an agenda but only the honest ones admit it. Thus it follows, that since the mainstream media doesn’t admit their agenda and since their “balanced” news doesn’t always embrace the same “facts” as the honest, agenda driven conservative media, then they must, by default be… gasp!… “LIBERAL!” Oh, the shame. The scandal! The horror!!!

Really?

I won’t claim that there is no bias whatsoever in mainstream journalism (that would be absurd!) but I will most certainly maintain that the bias that does exist there falls both ways for the simple reason that reporters are human and humans are biased and do not all share the same inclinations. Mainstream journalist, while research has shown them to be slightly more to the left of center than the average citizen, are still far from being all a bunch of leftist radicals. Further, despite their personal biases, the mainstream media in this country has maintained a reputation for fairness rivaled by very few the world over. They are still the best source for getting relatively fair and balanced coverage of national news… if only anyone will listen

And I personally have less excuse for falling for the “liberal mainstream media” myth than most as having been, in a former life, both a student of journalism and, briefly, a practitioner. I witnessed up close and personal the ethos of the professionals around me. How could I forget how truly dedicated the journalists I knew were to the concept of balance? How could I fall prey to claims that they were somehow the enemy of truth?

When I did finally come to my senses, I realized that my own arrogance led me down that path. I was, quite plainly, abashed at my folly. I have always claimed to be a truth seeker and here I was, choosing to NOT listen to dissenting voices. How had I let this happen?

The irony of the answer is that while I was ranting incessantly  about the bias of the “liberal mainstream media,” I was the very one knowingly and purposefully seeking out only news tailored to my OWN biases. Truth seeker? I think not. and so I changed. I resolved to doggedly dig into stories and really try to hear all sides (there are rarely only two), because failure to do so is exactly why fake news can proliferate. Don’t like the facts, simply go shop for a site that will give you “alternative facts”.

So how do we treat the fever?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer but one thing I know with certainty. We must start by choosing, as citizens, to stop actively distrusting the institutions that helped shape us into one of the greatest nations that has ever existed, otherwise we will destroy this country and everything it stands for. We must stand as a house united and unity requires trust and respect. Failure to do so will drive us further into partisan division made more rigid by a refusal to earnestly seek to understand other points of view.

George Washington famously warned of the danger of love for party overriding love of country. I am sick at heart to be a witness to the sagacity of his insight. I love America the beautiful, land of the free and home of the brave. I certainly hope she can survive this threat to her very soul. And I’m not talking about Trump here. I’m talking about the real problem, that rampant fever, that destroyer of nations: Distrust.

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An Open Letter to Evangelical Republicans

I have been contemplating writing an “open letter” detailing my feelings of dismay at the embrace given to Trump by the evangelical right. I’ve prayed about it and mulled it over at length, but the opportunity to write my thoughts down just hasn’t materialized. And then, I saw this post written by another blogger that perfectly expresses everything I was planning on writing. I share this man’s heart. I, too, feel compelled by the Christ I know and love to reject practically every single aspect of Trump, and I, too, am deeply disappointed in all who claim Christ as Lord but yet embrace a man so at odds with every single thing Christ modeled and calls us to be. Please read this letter and listen with your heart. My thanks to the author.

pontifications. and stuff.

I want to preface this letter with two caveats. The first is that I hope I’m wrong about what I see coming down the pike. The second is that if I’m right, I pray I will have the courage to live the convictions that I write, because God knows I am a person full of fear.

Dear Evangelical Republicans,

I grew up one of you. I was raised to think conservatively–to support the troops, to protest gay marriage, to fight against the great injustice of higher taxes for the wealthy. But as I’ve pursued a theological education over the last seven years, we’ve grown apart. Much that I once held as self-evident truth from the very hand of God, I now disagree with–and the convictions that do we still share, I hold from a much more nuanced perspective. I’ve learned to live with the disconnect from my youth, and I…

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Grandad’s “Dirty” Joke

My Grandad Reagan Otts was one of the most gentle, kind, laid back, wonderful human beings God ever created. Rarely did I ever witness him lose his temper and even more rarely did I ever hear him curse. (The only time I ever did was during a harrowing encounter with a particularly rude motorist while driving in Dallas traffic.) But rarest of all was even the hint of an off color joke coming from him.

While on a recent trip to Colorado with some family members, I was reminded of the closest thing to a dirty joke that Grandad ever told. Upon hearing it retold by my brother, I laughed anew as I realized how truly clever a man he was. And so, without further adieu, allow me to share with you my Grandad’s “dirty” joke.

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A newcomer to Alaska decided to capture a polar bear. He devised a plan to build a trap, hired a guide to take him to an ice sheet frequented by trophy sized bears, and then sent him away with instructions to return in one week.

When the guide returned, he was dismayed to see that his client had somehow excavated a deep pit in the ice over which he had assembled a tripod of long poles that held suspended directly over the center of the pit a large chunk of fresh meat. Surrounding the pit, set back about 10 feet from the edge was what looked like a low, circular igloo with multiple doors facing inward toward the pit. He had never seen anything like it and asked his client, “How in the world do you plan on trapping a polar bear with that?”

The client replied, “Easy. Ya see this little igloo I built around the pit?”

The guide nodded.

The client continued, “Well, I’m going to hide in that igloo until a polar bear comes along to try to get that meat over the pit, and while the bear is focused on reaching that meat, I’m going to circle around behind, pop out the nearest door, and kick him right in the ice hole.”

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I know it’s about as corny as corny can be, but it made me laugh just because of who it was that told it. As an added bonus, it provided my brother and I with an inside joke: “Don’t be an ice hole.”

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Belle of the Ball

I graduated from Texas A&M University. Yes, I’m an Aggie. But not just any Aggie. I grew up in College Station as the son of a Junction Boy. I used to play with the son of Earl Rudder, the college president and a legend in Aggieland. You can’t get much more Aggie than that. As such, I am well steeped in Aggie lore. One such example has to do with a tradition that, as rare as such a thing is, died out: coeds being bussed in from TWU to attend grand balls thrown in their honor.

I ran across an article about this the other day and it reminded me of a funny story my mother used to tell. The story occurred in the mid-80s while she was working for the university. Allow me to share it here to the best of my recall.

While on her way to lunch atop Rudder Tower, she found herself awaiting the elevator with an elderly woman accompanied by a middle aged lady. From the conversation my mother overheard while they were waiting, it became apparent that they were the mother and grandmother of a coed visiting from out of town and that both of them were married to Aggies themselves.

Before the elevator arrived, the three of them were joined by a very large, black cadet. The elderly woman appeared to take great interest in the new arrival, looking him over from head to toe.

After noticing his senior boots, she turned to him and said, “Oh… You must be a senior in the corp, young man.”

“Yes, maam.”, he replied politely.

After a brief, somewhat awkward pause, she spoke again. “My husband was in the corp back in the 30’s.”

The cadet smiled and said, “Is that so?”

“Yes,” she continued. “But there weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The cadet looked a bit shocked and uncomfortable as the daughter turned to her mother with a look of complete mortification and ground out “Mother!” from between clenched teeth. She turned to the cadet in full blush and said, “I am SO sorry.”

In true gallant fashion, the cadet recovered his composure and said, “It’s quite alright ma’am. Your mother is right. There probably weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The awkward silence that followed was mercifully ended by the arrival of the elevator. Conversation ceased while the party boarded. The only floor selected was the top floor, the site of the restaurant. Just as the doors were closing, the elderly woman, whom had obviously been lost in thought reminiscing about the Aggieland of her youth, spoke up again, turning to the cadet, perhaps hoping to show she had meant no harm in her previous statement.

“I hardly recognize the campus nowadays. I met my husband while he was a student here. They would bus us in from TWU, where I was a student. Oh, I used to love to visit. All those handsome young cadets.”

She paused while the cadet nodded and smiled. All would have been well had she simply stopped there. But, unfortunately for her horrified daughter, she asked, in a voice aquiver with the excitement of her past fond memories, “Tell me, do you boys still have big balls here like they used to?”

The only saving grace was that the elevator had arrived and the doors opened right as this question was posed. Without hesitation, the daughter grabbed her mother by the arm and broke for the door, only uttering a hasty “Oh my god. I am so, SO sorry.”

My mother knew the real meaning of the question, but we will never know what that poor cadet was thinking.

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Who Do You Love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

The most important question in all of creation is, “Who do you love?”

Yeshua made it abundantly clear: “God is Love”, “Love each other”, “Love your enemies”. He meant it. He really meant it. So much so, that he made it a command: “This is my command: Love each other.” So much so, that he made it the watermark of following him: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love…” So much so, that, when asked which command was the greatest, he said something that, to the ears of his contemporaries, sounded outrageous:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And he didn’t leave any room for interpretation about who his followers were to love: EVERYONE. Not just your family. Not just your friends. Not just your countrymen. Not just your race. Not just your religion. EVERYONE. Even, and perhaps especially, your enemies.

So here is the question above all questions. Who do you love?

If you say you love the Eternal, but do not love his children, then you not only do not love the Eternal, but truly do not even know him. He IS love. As such, He loves everyone. He loves all his children. He loves Mother Teresa… and he also loves Adolf Hitler. He loves George Washington… and he also loves Josef Stalin. He loves Moishe… and he also loves Osama bin Laden. He even loves George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. Heck, he even loves Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump.

Do you love illegal immigrants? Do you love Muslims? Jews? Blacks? Hippies? Red necks? Rich? Poor? Queen Elizabeth? Welfare queens? Communists? Kim Jong-un? Charles Manson? Little Honey Boo-boo? Josh Dugger? Bill Cosby? Caitlyn Jenner? Gays? Drug dealers? Rapists? Human traffickers? Slave owners? Thieves? Murderers? Polygamists? The homeless? Members of ISIS? Pedophiles? Prostitutes? Conservatives? Liberals?

WHO do you LOVE?

It is the only question that matters. When I was stripped of my physical self and stood naked within the ocean of light that is our lord, that was the only thing that mattered. And in that state of absolute nakedness – spiritual nakedness – it was impossible to lie. My life was the answer; the answer was my true name, and that name was laid bare before all.

In that place, where communication is pure and absolute, where there is not even the possibility of ambiguity, where your name, your true name, the very essence of your being, is open for all to see, hear, smell, taste, touch… experience… in that place, who you love is who you are. That identity is the identity you forge every moment of your physical life. You quite literally write your own essential, eternal name by who, during this life, you choose to love… and who you choose to judge.

Judge? Shouldn’t that read “hate” or “choose not to love”? No, judge is correct. True love, agape love, can only come from the Eternal as a result of loving him. The very act of opening ourselves completely to him in love is the very thing that enables his love to flow through us. But, in order to love him, I must know and trust him as sovereign, as the Creator, and as the only one able to justly judge. For me to choose to believe that I have the right to judge, I have to think myself equal with God, but, the moment I make that choice, I terminate my love for him. If I love the Eternal, I can only ever love his children without judgement. To presume, even for an instant, to judge is to forget who is God and who is not. (Hint: it’s not me.)

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that in order to love others I have to agree with their choices. Not at all. I simply have to choose to love them in spite of their choices, trusting the Eternal to deal with them justly just as he deals with me justly; just as he loves me in spite of my choices. Neither is it true that loving others without judgement requires accepting their actions without opposition. In many cases, loving requires opposition. A loving response to Hitler was to prevent him from killing the innocent.

Love is not simple, but it is worthwhile. It is the most worthwhile thing there is. It defines you. It refines you. It determines your name.

And so, I ask you again, hoping and praying with all my soul that you think long and hard about the answer: who do you love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

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A Dog Just Peed in my Beer

Copyright 2014 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

This song is dedicated to the young lady that inspired it. Thanks Melissa. Here is my acapella  recording so you can get some idea of the country tune that goes with the lyrics. Enjoy!

Well, I run off the road and got stuck in the ditch
When I almost hit a deer.
So I grabbed my last three Lone Stars
And I sat in the shade on my rear
I drank the first two and then opened the last,
But when I sat it down to wipe a tear,
An old cur dog that was nosin’ around,
Hiked his leg and just peed in my beer!

— Chorus —
A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by a tree,
Gettin’ drunk as could be
When a dog come and peed in my beer!

You see today’s the anniversary,
I mark it ever’ year,
It’s the day she ripped my heart to shreds
And left me cryin’ here.
So I was headin’ to the store in my pickup truck
To pick up a case of cheer.
But instead I’m stuck on the side of the road and
A dog just peed in my beer!

[Chorus]

Now I’ve lived through many hard times
And by now the truth seems clear
When the going gets rough and I aughta get tough
And put it in another gear,
Instead of risin’ to the challenge
I run away in fear.
And now to top the whole thing off,
A dog just peed in my beer!

[Chorus]

Now I’m facing a dilemma,
And my mind ain’t clear, you see.
What with grievin’ that witch and gettin’ stuck in the ditch
I’m as desperate as can be.
So now I’m starin’ at my last Lone Star,
And a-puzzlin’ mightily,
Do I pour it out or just guzzle it quick
And hope I can’t taste that pee!?!

A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Gak!
Whooooo doggy!

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The Evidence of Things Unseen

Those of you that have been following this blog for any length of time are probably aware of the two concurrent and interrelated themes of my near death experience and my God dreams. I cannot separate the one from the other because the things revealed to me while out of my body were reinforced by the first of my God dreams, which occurred immediately upon my return to my body, and further clarified by subsequent dreams, the most important of which concerned the resolution of a deep wound from my childhood.

Over the past 36 years, the Creator has taken me on a journey I never could have predicted and a great deal of the flow of that journey has been accomplished through the interplay between my NDE and the ongoing occurrence of these special dreams. The frustration for me, however, is that, while I have profited greatly from these experiences and feel humbled and blessed to have had them, I find that there is no way to share them with others in a way that rises above, at best, the level of odd, perhaps interesting, rantings of a man that believes he has experienced things which cannot be shared in a way to which anyone else can readily relate. It’s maddening. Sometimes it makes me want to scream.

But I have come to accept that it is only reasonable for others to be skeptical. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This has led me to constantly seek out the stories of others that claim to have also experienced an NDE, with the result being that I find myself more and more encountering depictions of heavenly visits that resonate with me in ways too harmonic to be explained away as mere chance. This is especially true when I read the accounts of those children, like Colton Burpo in “Heaven is for Real“, who were too young when they visited heaven for the descriptions of their experience to be reasonably explained as “hallucinatory fulfillment of religiously fueled  expectations” since such expectations would only reasonably exist in persons old enough to have developed a personal belief system rich enough to fuel such a possible explanation.

Some of the details that struck me most vividly in Colton’s descriptions of his experience in heaven are the vivid colors of the rainbow, the intense (like REALLY intense) love of Yeshua for His children, the awareness of events in “the real world” that he could not possibly have known while unconscious, and the knowledge of things, past, present, and future, that have no reasonable “natural” explanation. These things make my heart resonate like a bell.

While our individual experiences of heaven were not identical (as no two appear to be), there are certain themes and details that recur over and over again. For instance, Akiane Kramarik, who claims to have started visiting heaven in her dreams at the tender age of 4, describes the “hundreds of millions of more colors we don’t know yet” which is identical to my own experience. Akiane was raised by atheists and had NO religious background from which to draw any expectation of God or heaven. Her experience falls more under the God dream category than the NDE, but the thematic resonance is unmistakable.

I know there are many that simply cannot accept as evidence the anecdotal stories of those that claim to have visited heaven (or hell) as anything other than hearsay, fanciful wish fulfillment, or fabrications, but if you look at the facts of each case and start examining the circumstantial evidence, the case for a spiritual realm or dimension grows stronger and stronger. Granted, it cannot ever be proven to the standard required by scientific inquiry, but that does not mean it can be readily dismissed either. And for those of us that have experienced these things first hand, I can assure you that it would require a great effort to ever cease to believe in the reality behind the experience. I could just as easily dismiss as real the entire experience of the reality we all seem to share. I guess seeing really is believing.

Shalom, my friends. Try not to be too enamored of your own assumptions.

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